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Interdisciplinarity

The term interdisciplinarity features prominently in Queer Theory, Women’s Studies and feminist theory, and it is ubiquitous on the websites of research centres for gender and sexuality. Its popularity in feminist theory comes hardly as a surprise, as

‘[f]eminism brings together the disparate interests of literary and cultural criticism, the social sciences, philosophy, psychology and psychoanalysis in its concern with the ways in which women have been represented and represent themselves, and with their oppression and emancipation’ (Moran 2010: 92). Despite all political and theoretical differences among feminist scholars and activists, most would agree that we cannot fully understand complex phenomena such as gender norms or sexual identities, if we treat them as natural categories or analyse them exclusively as abstract categories, psychological processes or cultural constructs. Rather we need to combine theories and methods from a range of fields to explore biological, social, cultural and performative aspects of gender and sexuality.

Does this mean that all research and courses on gender and sexuality are interdisciplinary? Certainly not! Sabine Hark argues that ‘for most Women’s and Gender Studies programs it would be more accurate to speak of multidisciplinarity instead of a genuinely inter- or transdisciplinary research and teaching approach’ (Hark 2007: 22). Hark insists that a course on gender and sexuality does not become interdisciplinary, just because it provides a platform for speakers from different disciplines to talk about a certain topic. But how, then, can we conceptualise and practice interdisciplinarity in this context? And, how does this interdisciplinarity relate to particular disciplines, multidisciplinarity and to transdisciplinarity?

It is these and other questions that we explore in our reading group on interdisciplinarity. The group seeks to offer a friendly and informal environment, where postgraduate students and academic staff with an interest in gender and sexuality can discuss, theorise, visualise, and practice interdisciplinarity. Our reading materials range from Stanley Fish’s Being Interdisciplinary Is So Very Hard to Do from 1991 to recent feminist contributions such as Karen Barad’s discussion of transdisciplinarity in her 2007 book Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning.

More information on reading material and on previous sessions can be found on our blog.

Katharina Karcher